One would think that the Minnesota Vikings had narrowly lost their fifth Super Bowl--their first since 1977--the way the Vikings' owners and some members of the local media are congratulating Vikings' head coach Brad Childress on the "progress" that the team made this year.
"We like where we are," Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf monotoned to mostly adoring interviewers. "We've improved each year and now we are NFC North Division Champions." Zygi slipped in stating that fans should appreciate the feeling as it is an evanescent one, but few, if any in the adoring assembly seemed to notice.
Instead, the fixation was on winning a division championship. That is what fans now are being told they should consider a sign of progress--that and moving from a 6-10 record, to an 8-8 record, to a 10-6 record this year.
On paper, without further evidence, the line seems logical. The Vikings have improved by two games in each of the past two seasons under Childress. And this year, for the first time ever, the Vikings won the NFC North.
Details, as always, offer a different version of the truth.
In 2006, Childress inherited a team that finished 9-7 the previous season under then head coach Mike Tice. In his inaugural season, Childress took Tice's final team, added free agents Chester Taylor, Steve Hutchinson, Ben Leber, and Ryan Longwell and rookies Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin, Ryan Cook, and Tarvaris Jackson. Childress also welcomed back from injury center Matt Birk.
In 2007, the Vikings added free agents Bobby Wade and Visanthe Shiancoe and rookies Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Brian Robison, Marcus McCauley, Aundrae Allison, and Tyler Thigpen.
In 2008, the Vikings added free agents Jared Allen, Madieu Williams, and Bernard Berrian.
In 2006, the Vikings finished with the 26th best record in the NFL, down from 16th best record in the NFL in 2005.
In 2007, the Vikings' 8-8 record left them with the 16th best record in the NFL, an improvement over the 26th best record and back to where the team was in comparison to the rest of the league in 2005.
In no season since Childress' arrival in Minnesota have the Vikings lost a single free agent of note--a remarkable stroke of fortune about which virtually no other NFL team can brag, not even the Detroit Lions. That, along with the upgrade in talent at numerous key spots, suggested improvement if only by virtue of the upgrade in talent.
This year, the Vikings' 10-6 regular-season record left them with the 10th best overall record in the league. But the Vikings' loss in the first round of the playoffs to the team with the 11th best record in the league, and Arizona's and San Diego's survival, coupled with first-round losses by teams that proved themselves better than Minnesota during the regular season provide a valid case for arguing that Minnesota had, at best, the 13th best team in the NFL in 2008.
That's still progress, just not on par with the hyperbole that now eminates from Vikings' headquarters and from out of the mouths of some of the local Vikings' cheerleaders.
And it does raise the question whether, given the talent added to the squad and the comparatively and increasingly light schedules that the Vikings have encountered in Childress' first three seasons in Minnesota, any other coach would have done any worse than Childress has done? In other words, assuming improvement, have the Vikings improved because of Childress or in spite of him?
Bad Call Explanation of the Week:
Explaining why he declined to accept a holding penalty on a first-quarter drive that would have moved the Philadelphia Eagles into questionable field-goal range from clear field-goal range, Vikings' head coach Brad Childress stated that his special teams coach had informed him that Eagles' field-goal kicker David Akers would have hit from 53 anyway, having hit from 60 in warm-ups, that there was no certainty of stopping the Eagles on what would have been 3rd and 17, "given that the Eagles had been moving the ball."
For the season, Akers was 2-5 from 50 yards or more and 8-10 from 40-49 yards. If you're going to rely on statistics to justify your decision, then you ought to rely on them in making your decision. 80% versus 40% seems to suggest taking the penalty. Then there is the fact that, contrary to Childress' contention, the Eagles had not "been moving the ball well." On their first drive, the Eagles moved the ball 22 yards before punting. On the second drive, the one that led to the gifted field goal, the Eagles moved the ball a total of one yard before kicking the field goal. The only reason the Eagles were in field-goal range was because Paul Ferraro, the guy who counseled Childress on whether to accept the holding penalty, again saw his special teams unit blow up, allowing a 62-yard punt return to DeSean Jackson.
Up Next: Decisions.